The glitziest new addition to the Salt Lake City dining scene is the Hyatt Regency’s new Spanish-inspired rooftop restaurant, Mar | Muntanya. Translated from Spanish, the name means “sea and mountain.” Which seems appropriate given that Executive Chef Tyson Peterson’s menu is said to “draw inspiration from the coastal and mountainous regions of Basque Country and Catalonia, where the character of the land is akin to the Great Salt Lake Valley and contrasting Rocky Mountains.”
“Developing the menu for Mar | Muntanya has been exciting for me,” said Peterson, who has opened two other Spanish-inspired restaurants during his career. “At Mar | Muntanya, we want our guests to leave feeling as if the communities of Northern Spain settled in Salt Lake City and brought their lively culture along with them. We want to recreate a similar feeling of being in Northern Spain, leaning into the spirit and energy, while also being authentic to Salt Lake City.”
Mar | Muntanya is a sprawling restaurant with a full bar and a contemporary but warm decor with lots of browns and golds, created by the New York agency Parts and Labor Design. The views from the rooftop terrace and floor to ceiling windows in the indoor dining room are exquisite. The menu is divided into two main sections: Tapas & Pintxos are small but shareable plates, and Platos are the entree sized dishes.
While perusing the menu I suggest enjoying a cocktail from the bar; there are traditional Spanish cocktails featured such as Carjillo, Kalimotxo and Una Clara in addition to specialty drinks like the one I loved, called Apasionado. It’s a delicious, somewhat sweet blend of Pisco Logia Puro, Peach Syrup, Passion Fruit Syrup, Lime, and Orange Bitters. My wife also really liked the house Sangria ($12), of which there are red, white, and non-alcoholic versions.
The Tapas & Pintxos side of the menu far outweighs the Platos options in number, with some 17 small plates and a mere five Platos dishes, plus paella “for the table.” The Tapas & Pintxos selection is anchored by nine vegetable choices, and rounded out by four seafood and four meat & game dishes. Small plates range from authentic Spanish dishes like Papas Bravas ($6), Sherry-Glazed Mushrooms ($8), and a Boquerone (anchovy) and Gem Salad with fava beans, piquillo peppers and Manchego ($8) to Utah-themed Funeral Croquettas ($8) – a Beehive by way of Spain on classic funeral potatoes with cheesy hashbrown fritters, corn flakes, pickled Fresno pepper, and scallion aioli. It’s a reminder that Chef Peterson hails originally from Utah; I first became aware of his talent when he opened the Jean-Georges restaurant, J&G Grill, in 2010 at the St. Regis Deer Valley.
A classic Spanish dish is Gambas al Ajillo ($13), which is a simple but delicious handful of peeled, tender shrimp bathed in a white wine and butter sauce, seasoned with Espelette pepper. Other seafood Tapas & Pintxos include Scallop Escabeche ($15) with butter-braised fennel, heirloom peppers and citrus dressing; and a somewhat unusual preparation of oysters ($15) wherein the oysters come with beef tartare, spruce mignonette, and house-made cocktail sauce. I thought the beef tartare was a typo on the menu but was told it wasn’t. I’ll certainly give the combo of raw oysters and raw beef a try next visit.
My wife and I both felt that the Grilled Octopus ($15) at Mar | Muntanya was the hands-down winner from the Tapas & Pintxos dishes that we tried. Chef Petersen explained to me that the impossibly tender octopus is cooked using a “slow and low” temperature technique similar to sous vide. The awesome octopus is served with charred chorizo, potato puree, garlic and lemon.
Meat & Game from the Tapas & Pintxos selection includes Bilbao Chorizo Sausage with Spanish mustard and lemon ($8); a Charcuterie & Cheese plate ($18) featuring both local and Spanish cured meats and cheeses; and Elk Carpaccio ($18) with Shepherds bread, forest mushrooms, rosemary cream, and Manchego cheese. I thought the Pastured Beef Tartare ($18) was sensational. It’s a generous portion of minced Niman Ranch Beef with an olive and caper dressing, airy and delicious brioche “croutons” and topped with shredded Manchego and minced chives.
There are currently five entree sized Platos at Mar | Muntanya: two fish dishes, two beef dishes and Chicken Confit with smoked tomato conserva, piquillo piperade, charred eggplant, and rustic toasted bread ($21). Beef options are Roasted Elk Tenderloin with blackberry jus ($35) or Striploin Rodanxes with Niman Ranch grass-fed beef, red chimichurri, and horseradish aioli ($31). For fish lovers, there’s Slow-Cooked Sea Bass with eggplant pisto ($29) or hazelnut-crusted Steelhead Trout ($27).
I would imagine that when most people think of Spanish cuisine they think first of paella. And it’s true that paella is a classic Spanish dish. What many might not know however is that there are as many different types of paella made in Spain as there are gumbos in Louisiana. I’ve eaten black squid ink paella, monkfish paella, vegetable paella and various interpretations involving shellfish. Mar | Muntanya offers “Paella for the Table” ($40) which is a pretty typical Valencian-style paella. It’s a generous serving (even for two people) of paella made with La Bomba rice, confit chicken thighs, Bilbao chorizo, rock shrimp, black mussels, piquillo peppers, peas and saffron. Some people eating Chef Peterson’s paella might think that the kitchen burned the rice. However, anyone who has eaten paella in Spain knows that the socarrat – the layer of toasted rice that forms at the bottom of the paella pan during cooking – is considered the best part of the paella, a delicacy. It’s often scraped from the bottom of the paella and served on top. So don’t forego the burnt looking rice at the bottom of that paella pan!
Desserts at Mar | Muntanya include Cinnamon Churros ($9), Sour Cream Cheesecake with Rioja wine sauce ($9), Xokolate Bread Pudding ($9), and Lemon Natilla ($5), which we ordered because my wife is gluten free. It was a simple but delectable Spanish-style custard with lemon curd and Mantecado cookie.
There has been more hype and anticipation of the new Hyatt Regency Salt Lake City and Mar | Muntanya than anything I recall in recent memory. Does the restaurant live up to the hype? Yes, I think so. The ambiance and service are outstanding and the cuisine from Chef Peterson’s kitchen is rock solid, and offered at fair prices. Whether you choose just to stop in for a tapa or two and a splash of wine or for a full meal, I think you’ll be pleased with this new downtown dining destination. You sure can’t beat the views!
Photos by Ted Scheffler & Courtesy of Mar | Muntanya
Culinary quote of the week: “He tastes of rice with a touch of saffron. He says I taste of seafood. I guess we’d make a good paella.” – Chloe Thurlow
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.